A Third Culture Kid’s Experience: Sex23 April 2020
Content warning: discussions about sex
Every sexual experience that I have had has boiled down to one governing emotion: guilt.
When it came to talking about sex, my parents were on opposing sides of the fence. My white-Australian father was adamant on giving me “the talk” at a young age, asking me questions unabashedly about my sexuality as I grew into my teenage body. It was awkward, a girl discussing sex with her dad, but it normalised the swathe of sexual insecurities that came with getting older. My Indonesian mother, like many of my Thai friends’ parents, was less candid on the subject. We spoke little of sex, if at all. My education and self-reliance were far more important to her.
I was met with similar divergence at school. Growing up, I had a British private education in Bangkok. Though the Caucasian teachers had a liberal approach to teaching sex—assigning us foam penises to put condoms on, discussing consent and the premise of birth controls—the conversation did not carry past the classroom. In Thailand, the topic of sex was tackled gracelessly; living within a collectivist society where status is coveted, parents felt the topic was too taboo to be discussed with their children, and the Asian-dominated student body was reluctant to air their sexual experiences. To them and their parents, knowledge and diligence were paramount. None of the girls ever discussed masturbation and the boys examined sexuality from the perspective of ‘conquest and domination’ through their illegal pornography consumption that was only available from offshore torrent sites. This contrast was isolating for me; between the cultural differences of my parents, and the environment at school, I thought I could only have one or the other—the enjoyment of sex, or my education and ambitions.
Moving to Melbourne for university, it was unusual to hear such unbarred conversations about sex. After all, sex had been treated like a social anathema for most of my life and to discover that my friends enjoyed other people just as much as they studied was both shocking and liberating. Sex floated into conversations just as breezily as one might discuss television shows. Although Thailand’s focused culture helped me foster a strong work ethic, living in Australia and being immersed in a culture that values independence made me question how little aspiration and sex are intertwined: is it possible for one not to cancel the other?
To say that navigating these cultural clashes has been tough for me would be an understatement. I want to both implement the self-sacrificing mindset of my Asian heritage whilst having the autonomy that my white background encourages. Living in Melbourne, I’ve tried to embrace the selflessness I was taught in Bangkok—I want to do well at university for my family. But I’ve also started to welcome selfishness, to try to understand that the strength of my mind has no correlation with what I do with my body and that sex does not, and should not, be something I feel guilty for having.